Is that all there is? (Newport Beach)

I didn’t get into a car in Detroit with the express purpose to driving to LA to get a look at the beaches. However there’s something about getting to the end of the road after 5000 miles, climbing over the parking lot wall and standing on sand in drizzle, peering from under your hood at the black space you presume is the sea, out-of-season bar signs flapping morosely in the wind, that makes you think, ‘bloody hell, is that it?’. And as far as America goes, that really is it.

“LA’s beach communities are the epitome of Southern California’s Endless Summer” say the LA Tourist Board, and that is right except when the endless summer has ended, like in December. California was hot and sunny like the pictures when we left Palm Springs, but it was obscured by fog by the time we were droning on in 8 lanes of traffic towards LA. And from the freeway in the gloom, LA looks grim, tatty, polluted, crowded and all used-up. It was also 67 degrees fahrenheit according to the Chevy dial. I didn’t know what that meant, but I knew it wasn’t good. And because it had taken us so long to crawl along the highway, I knew I wasn’t going to have time to stalk Deepak Chopra, or arrange to meet my friend Georgienne Bradley of, or hang out where Barry ‘Walrus of Love’ White recommended a man took a lady, or visit  Koenig’s Case Study House No.22, or eat Persian pizza in Tehrangeles. When it’s sunny anything is possible; with lower temperatures comes a dollop of reality.

Anyway, on we went to Newport Beach, can’t remember why, and after studying the pier through the car window, we ate fish at the well-festooned, retro Crab Cooker (where wine comes in plastic cups, why’s that?) and checked into a motel next to a tattoo parlour and liquor store.

The way I’d pictured it was that we’d reach the west coast, fresh and energetic, park on a dune, run laughing across the sand and splash into the Pacific before drinking champagne on a dune, wrapped in towels as the sun set, which is an indication of a) the power of tourism marketing and b) my reluctance to think things through.

I stood on the beach and looked at the sea again the next morning, surfers passing briskly like commuters. There was a line of them a few feet out, bobbing like jetsam. Then they trotted back, rinsed off the sand and drove off in Fords and Nissans. No-one had a campervan, no-one high-fived, there weren’t any volleyball players. Sun might have made it spectacular; made it the quintessential golden Californian scene I felt such a journey merited. I’ll have to do it again in June.

We made our mark, and moved on.


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